tv [untitled] May 21, 2012 11:30pm-12:00am EDT
the u.s. fire and administration would better describe the role of both the modern fire service and the agency. after the well publicized problems stemming from hurricane katrina, congress rightly took steps to revamp our nation's approach to emergency response. usfa is working to develop a better means of coordinating existing state and response for disaster employment. currently, the agency is considering organizing firefighters and others to support fema response and recovery efforts. the iaff fully supports this endeavor, but we must ensure firefighters are appropriately utilized and deployed during a disaster. during response to hurricane katrina, fema called up a thousand firefighters to service community relations officers instead of deploying them to the
frontline where their presence was desperately needed. it was a waste in resources and capabilities. they hope to ensure the personnel resources are properly identified and utilized during emergencies. the best way to accomplish that goal would be to establish a national firefighter credentialing system. in the past, too many well meaning firefighters have self-dispatched to an emergency, but many have lacked the training and experience to operate effectively. a national system will alleviate that uncertainty by typing responders based on training and certification levels. this will enable instant commanders to make the most appropriate use of their resource of personnel. it has been in development since 2006. there is simply no excuse for this long delay. the project needs to be completed.
most importantly, usf a serves as the voice of the federal government. unfortunately, the -- is compromised by lack of adequate funding usfa has long struggle led with reports. the current level of $76.5 million must be maintained for the agency to carry out its mission and i urge this committee to increase the level. rest assured, we will be making the same case to your colleagues. lastly, i'd like to address a prior recommendation that in our view usf a has been slow to implement. rest assured we will be making the same case to your colleagues in appropriations. lastly, i'd like to address a prior congressional recommendation that in our view usfa has been slow to implement. the u.s. fire academy through training and education. today, the academy offers distance learning training at centers throughout the united states to expand its ability to serve individuals who weren't able to attend training. to expand the academy's reach, congress authorized usfa to partner with nationally
recognized to deliver a portion of the agency's training. organizations such as a iaff provide excellent partners that few institutions can match. through such partnerships usfa could increase the number of firefighters to benefit from these training programs. we look forward to working with chief mitchell in his role in implementing this program. this concludes my testimony. i thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today and like my colleagues, i'm ready to answer any questions. >> thank you, mr. o'connor. i want to thank all of the witnesses for their testimony and also for being right at the five minute button. that is a rarity on capitol hill and i thank you for your punctuality. i want to remind you of the rules, limit questioning to five minutes. the chair will open the round of questioning. recognize myself for five minutes. chief mitchell, as we are examining the usfa, we're
interested in what changes should be made. it serves as a support agency -- the u.s. forest service and the emergency management agency, these responsibilities are signed at the discretion of homeland security secretary. some have recommended that the usfa should be elevated to co-leader with the u.s. forest service to ensure a are more effective state and local response. would the usfa be able to handle this responsibility and to your knowledge, has the department explored the possibility of making this change with the forest service? >> thank you, mr. chairman. yes, the short answer is, yes, we have explored it. in fact, we have come up with a couple of initiatives that would allow us to participate more in response. we are meeting with fema response leadership at this time. this very week and also with the
u.s. forest service to discuss how we would coordinate dual coordinators. we have a lot of ideas on how we could do that in partnering with the other forest service nongovernmental organizations and state and regional agencies to provide some level through disaster response through the existing mutual aid agreements and contracts. and so there was a point where we wondered if we had that authority. we've talked with our legal folks and we find that fema administration has the authority to write us into that program. right now, we're just trying to coordinate that effort with the forest service and do it in a way that is acceptable to all the parties involved. >> thank you. >> chief critchley, how would having the u.s. serve as the
co-leader strengthen and complement the fire service response to all hazards? >> at this time, we're learning the same incident management type that the forest service uses, yet we have some specific entities, some specific duties that we do in an event that the forest service model doesn't address in the hazmat, the technical rescue during a big fire scene. i think this will build up the strength of it if we're both part of the decision making instead of just one and then coming to a support agency. if we're both there with our voices saying this is the best way to go, i think that's a much better end product than having to wait for support. >> thank you. chief mitchell, we're always interested in leveraging r&d in different agencies. there is ongoing research at dhs
and this fire safety looking at fire retardant materials to protect firefighters. how does the usfa coordinate its research along with other fire safety research going on at the department of homeland security and defense? >> we meet with them regularly both dhs snt we are talking now with the underwriter laboratories, talking or recently with oak ridge laboratories about new smoke detector technologies. essentially, we continually have communications through our team that works on technology and research at the usfa we gather input from our firefighters stakeholders and the other nongovernmental organizations across the country and in the
fire service as to needs. we communicate those with the technology agencies and laboratories and partners and try to see that our needs are being met by the research community. >> have you experienced any sort of problems with actually getting the level of cooperation between the different agencies? sometimes we hear it's hard to get information from one agency if you're working with another agency. >> i've only recently come into the federal government and so, the level of bureaucracy -- >> you can say it. go ahead. >> that you maybe need to go through to go from one step to the next is a little different than in local government, but the people engaged are very cooperative. i think, though, that sometimes
the process and our level of resource that supports us being engaged in the process, probably limits the, our ability to move forward faster, but we work with them to the extent that we can. >> thank you very much. i now recognize miss edwards for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman and to our witnesses. my staff actually just had a chance to spend a day at our fire training academy and i have to say for the work of firefighters and our chiefs, chief critchley on the ground, that's not for the faint of heart, so i really appreciate what you do for all of our communities. in your testimony, mr. o'connor and chief critchley, and we'll allow you to answer this question out of respect for administrator mitchell. and i'll share with you why.
you both expressed concerns over the administration's current level of funding and described the impact. this declining budget is having on the activities and specifically, chief critchley, you mentioned that the fire administration won't be able to complete modernization on the fire incident reporting system and that a number of courses offered at the fire academy will be eliminated and new courses will not be developed. i wonder if you can comment on the ability of the fire administration to fulfill its mission especially as you know what the needs are, at the most local level and i wonder if the two of you could comment on what these budget constraints mean and what level of authorized funding do you think ought to be included in a reauthorizing bill as we move forward through congress? chief? >> so, to the first point about the losses that we've seen in the -- in the u.s. fire
administration specifically at the national fire academy, we've seen a reduction in the number of courses. wide ranging courses from hazardous material to prevention to deployment for commanding control. lots of those have been reduced. we've seen a wonderful program called the trade program that is also looking at a reduction in funding. in the trade program is where i met fire chief garrett olson for the very first time as training officers, which builds a network across the nation about doing the right thing with our training. that, i'm worried that may be lost in it. the executive officer program. what an outstanding way to educate a continuum of leaders in the fire service so that we're thinking forward instead of staying the way we are because we're all going to have to change. those are issues that i would be concerned about with being cut. on the modernization of the infers.
right now we get reports, lots of reports for how it relates to the nfpa data. but i wonder if there's a way to do realtime numbers and to finish this so we can have numbers that we can compare our organization to. for example, we have l.a. fire department and fire department new york having questions about what their times mean. if we had a data spot that we could get real time numbers from, i believe that's an incredible value. >> so what you're sharing with us is that a reduction in the budget has -- because it's a fairly lean agency. it has real impact locally. mr. o'connor, do you have a comment about that? >> yes, to piggyback on what the chief referenced. we all recognize that the fire service is inherently a local operation. but the chairman referenced the landmark america's burning in 1973. and frankly congress recognized
in federal government that there needs to be an agency that is the voice of the fire service. you describe it as being very lean, and that is correct. some of my testimony was predicated on ems, other issues such as credentialing. i don't offer that as a criticism. with the limited resources that are consistently diminishing, usfa is having a hard time doing its job. and the simple reality is the authorization level is great. it needs to be at least at the current level, but it certainly needs to be appropriated. this is a lean agency. there is not a lot of fat there. and it's supporting over 300 300,000 professional firefighters and probably twice and a half as many volunteers across the country in every community. and we just really encourage congress to recognize that this is an efficient use of federal funds. it's protecting communities, and that really in our view is government's most basic responsibility. >> and administrator mitchell, if i could just ask you, in terms of what the -- what firefighters need and what departments need all across the
country, some of the things, credentialing and others, you would like the capacity to be able to deliver those things. is that correct? >> yes. i would like to expand our capacity and really since i have been at the fire administration, i have found we have had excellent people working there. they have a plan that is outstanding. we do not have the, really, the resources to carry all elements through expeditiously. so the reductions have limited and retarded our ability to move forward with some of the newer programs that we need to move forward. >> thank you. and i yield. >> i recognize the chairman of the full committee, the gentleman from texas, mr. hall for five minutes. >> mr. chairman, i do thank you. and i thank this panel. i just -- you have such an important job, and it's important to the smallest group of firefighters to the big cities.
and i thank your testimony and you have given time to prepare and the services you render really ought to be appreciated by this committee. and i think we do. along the line of ms. edwards' questions, she and i kind of work as a team a lot of times. i want to enlarge a little bit on her questions and some of the answers that you have given. my dad was a firefighter in the smallest county in the state of texas. 254 counties, they were the smallest. and they had a fire department, one truck. the siren would go off at night, and everybody could hear it. i could hear it too. it would wake me up. my dad would get up and run all the way to the fire station because they wanted to be there before lightning and bridges got there, because the first one there got to drive the one truck they had. and there was always a race for there. when it was all over and they'd come home, i'd ask dad how did it go, well, we saved a lot is usually his answer. but it means a lot. and i have to rely on you.
i guess administrator mitchell, i'll ask you, how does the united states fire administration, how do you support the rural fire departments? i have a lot of them in my fourth congressional district there. how do you support those? i guess the fundamental difference is in the nature of the rural fire problems compare to the u.s. fire problem as a whole. and i say this. it's sad that we had to have a 9/11 to really get people to appreciate you all the way they should. a lot of communities are protected of volunteer fire departments and face very unique challenges, agricultural fires, fires of wildland and urban interface. does usfa offer training especially tailored to volunteer firefighters? and what type of resources have you developed to assist fire departments operating in rural communities?
i guess -- do you want me to repeat that, mr. mitchell? >> no, i think i get it. >> i didn't think you would want me to repeat it. yes, we have courses specifically tailored toward volunteers. largely what we have are offerings of the courses. we worked with the volunteers to try to make them more available, recognizing the difficulties and to having the time to get additional training. so we work more to expand the online offers and the in-the-field courses that go out through the states, state fire training. much of the basic training is done locally. and so those are handled outside. what we do try to do on a larger basis is a lot of that online. with respect to rural areas and wild land we have courses in development right now for wildland/urban interface fires to protect those fires close to the wildland. and we have some wildland courses that are being offered through the national wildland
coordinating group. so we're -- i guess the overall answer is that we're reaching out, trying to make the courses more available to the volunteers, and working with the volunteer associations also that helped that to happen. >> thank you for that. and i think it's very important. i yield back my time, mr. chairman. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. and i now recognize ms. bonamici for five minutes. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. i want to join the other members of this committee in thanking you all for the work that you do to keep our communities safe. administrator mitchell, in your testimony, you talked about the indirect costs of fire and estimate that according to your testimony here, the indirect costs, which include things like lost business, medical expenses, temporary lodgings, psychological damage may be as much as eight to ten times higher than the direct cost of
fire. and that just emphasizes the importance of training and education and prevention. and i know that right now many communities not only in my district and state, but across this country, are struggling and don't have the resources they need at the local level to do all the work that they need to do. so what i would like you to do, maybe dr. hall, because you mentioned this in your testimony. can you talk about the progress that has been made with the areas that are targeted, for example, with the assistance to firefighters and the safer grant programs. can you comment about how these programs have really contributed to addressing the challenges that are faced by our local fire service districts. >> yes, i'd be glad to, thank you. we have conducted three needs assessment of surveys of the fire service.
and the second and third we accompanied with a matching analysis looking at how the needs had been affected by the grants that people have gotten in the years before the survey was conducted. what we found was that the particular types of needs that were especially targeted by the afg and safer grants tended to show the biggest improvements over the ten years between the first and the last. these improvements were all sizes of communities from the big cities to the small rural volunteer fire department areas that mr. hall was talking about. so it was -- what we got was the programs -- the grants are very well targeted. they're very effective. the only limit on the degree of improvement and need that we've seen is that there is limited funding. they have accomplished as much as could have been expected
given the amounts of the grants that were out there. and so to us, the road map was fairly clear. if you want to get these needs really far down, you need to, as the other speakers have said, maintain the funding, and if possible increase the funding for these grants. another thing that we looked at in the grants program, in the needs assessment was training. do they have the training? do they have the certification for various different tasks. and here again we saw improvements in need, but still very great needs. and this ties back to the outreach programs that are being conducted from the academy. >> thank you. now in my state of oregon, we pride ourselves in sustainability and green building. so when somebody mentioned the rooftop covered with photovoltaic cells, that sounded like back home. would you talk a little bit about the work that is being done to make sure that new methods and tactics are developed for fighting fires in
green buildings. >> i think that was my statement that you're reacting to, congresswoman. thank you. there is an active project at nfpa that is in cooperation with the fire administration and with other key entities to try to develop best practices. how should you adjust your way of fighting a fire in order to identify that this particular hazard is there when you show up, and how you avoid shock hazards and other things in the course of fighting the fire. it's not the only going very well in terms of producing results, but it's something of a role model project for how new hazard be incorporated into the best practices of the fire service in general. >> thank you very much. and i yield back. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you.
i now recognize the gentleman from illinois, mr. lipinski for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i thank all the witnesses for their testimony. obviously very critical issue here we're talking about fire safety. in the written testimony of both mr. o'connor and mr. mitchell, you both highlight one area in which you think the usfa can do more is in training. and mr. o'connor, you specifically mentioned that usfa has been slow to implement congress' implementations that the usfa partner organizations have established fire training programs. so i want to ask mr. o'connor, can you tell me -- tell us more about iaff training programs and how they can help the u.s. fire academy expand the reach of its classes. >> well, i think that in all fairness to the academy, part of the issue is resources that we have talked previously. but in our view, the national fire academy is a wonderful resource for people that are actually able to be in residence there and actually traveled to
emmitsburg, it's wonderful training. and the outreach of the training academies has been magnificent. but i think this committee in congress in a previous authorization recognized that there is other opportunities. and while we're very proud of the iaaff, i wouldn't limit it to simply our organization. there are lot of folks that have very vibrant training programs. for example, the one i know best obviously is the iaff. we have several grant programs funded through the department of energy, department of homeland security, and department of traps portation that are predicated on peer-to-peer training. we have programs certified to meet the standards and the approval of the fire academy and other sources through the fire service, but they're delivered very economically on a local level. meaning if there is a need for a training course in hypothetically a town in oregon, we would find instructors who are already trained and certified in portland. their day job may be being a firefighter in portland or
medford or somewhere else, but they would be dispatched to this area that needs training, and basically, only be compensated for the period that they're actually training. they're spread geographically across the nation. so it's a very efficient and economical way of delivering the training. that cadre of instructors currently exists. and if we were contracted or through some mechanism be allowed that opportunity to put these programs in the field, and again, i don't limit this simply to the iaff, but it is certainly a very good model of training. it's especially effective because it's not just an academic setting, it is an actual firefighter who may be an expert in hazmat response, training other firefighters in that discipline. so there is that natural respect and camaraderie. and it's just a very good way of expanding training profiles and getting a curriculum in the field that you avoid travel costs and residency and things of that nature. >> thank you. i want to turn the rest of my time over to the issue of fire grants.
in 2009, again in 2011, i helped introduce legislation to reauthorize the fire grant program. unfortunately, neither of these initiatives have been passed in the law. the reauthorization legislation would make these grants more accessible to fire departments across the country and bring stability to the crucial source of funds for local fire authorities. dr. hall, in your testimony you speak to the importance of these grant programs and the effects they have had in our communities. can you comment on the importance of reauthorizing these programs and your thoughts on the proposed changes and reauthorizing language. >> thank you, congressman. yes. we have considerable analysis which was done in association with our needs assessment surveys to demonstrate the good targeting and the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of the grants programs in all kinds of different resource areas.
we have made the results of those studies available to every member of congress and their staff, and we'd be happy to discuss these things in detail at your discretion. i do not honestly have any suggestions or thoughts on the reauthorizing language. i know our washington, d.c., office would be more than happy to discuss that kind of detail with any of you and your staffs as you go forward. >> all right, thank you. i appreciate that, and hopefully we'll continue to take advantage of that opportunity. i hope my colleagues do also. and with that i will yield back the remainder of my time. >> thank you, mr. lipinski. now i'm going to open it up to a second round for those who would like to ask additional questions. i recognize myself for five minutes. there has been a lot of discussion about resources. and i understand that over the course of a number of different years that the authorization
level has been up to $70 million for the usfa. and then the appropriations actually came in much lower than that. and i think in the 2013 house funding bill, basically it provides $42.4 million, which is right about the same level the request from the president and his budget. i know that's not the level you would like, but i do think that this hearing has been very informative to see what the priorities of the usfa and how we can support your endeavors in very tough budgetary times. i think that providing an authorization level that is much higher than when really we can afford i think is a little bit irresponsible, but i do want to continue to go down and see what priorities and what we can do to make sure that we are giving the support that is necessary, even though we may not be getting to the levels that you would like. so i do appreciate everybody's testimony.
and i want to go to chief critchley. chief mitchell was talking about how wildfires are becoming a significant threat. as you know, arizona is now battling four wildfires in the central and eastern state. we had the wallow wildfire last year and we continue to see this. can you see this, kind of give me some insight on why are wildfires becoming a more significant threat? is it forced management policies, ensure that we're keeping fuel loads low and trees thinned to a healthy level, or patterns of development because people are moving closer to forests, or is it a combination of both? >> thank you. i would say it's a combination of both. i'm not as well versed on the fuels management program that they have, but i can promise you that as we grow as a community, we're reaching out into areas that were never designed for fire trucks to get in to take care of.